Always surprised

I am always surprised by this journey. Both good and bad surprises.

Our bad surprises, children coming for respite (meaning they are in a ‘loving foster family’) with little or no personal hygiene skills.
Teeth that don’t get cleaned.
Body’s that don’t get washed.
Children who at age 10 can’t wash their own hair.

“Blake” is the poster child for this.
I know he has come from an horrific background. Quite possibly the worst start to life a little person can have, but, he has been in care for 6 years. I know some of that was in residential care (group home for you US readers) and I don’t know how long he has been with his family, but at his age, I would have thought that he should have been taught along the way how to clean his teeth, that his teeth need to be cleaned more than once a day, that he would know how to wash his body, how to wipe his bottom. The basics really.

I would have thought that if these were issues for him that needed work, it would be in his notes for us so that we could help him with at respite.
Is it that we’re just respite carers so what do we need to know for?
Or is it that he’s just trying to get out of doing it when he’s at respite?
Shouldn’t it be a thing he just does?

Questions for me to get answers to, as it appears, this isn’t the end of our time with “Blake”.

Our good surprise for the weekend.
“Blake” announces on Friday night while I’m preparing dinner “I’m not going to cry at respite anymore”.

Well, after the 2.5 hour screaming saga a month ago, you could have knocked me over with a feather! This was the perfect opportunity to have a little chat with him.
Why is he not going to cry? because Mum didn’t go away this weekend. It seems Mum and Dad go away when he’s at respite and he thinks they aren’t coming back (nice he can articulate that now, would have been nicer months ago, but at least we know what was going on for him).
What about a bath at bedtime? No, but can I have a shower in the morning. Yes, we can live with that.
What about cleaning teeth at bedtime? I clean them at bedtime now as well.

So our weekend?
AWESOME!!!
He didn’t cry Friday night at all, and only a little quiet sob for about 10 minutes Saturday night and was quickly settled again.
When we went to the farm, we told him all about what things we were going to do when we went home from the farm, and agreed to a 30 minute warning when it was time to go, and again, he was awesome, even gave Nana and Papa a hug when he left, a first, which left them with beaming smiles (they don’t ask for hugs from the kids, but when they get them, you can see how much it means).

I have no idea what’s happened for “Blake” in the last month.
I don’t know if the feedback we sent through to the department has been forwarded on so that his carers know what’s going on for him at respite and if they’ve talked to him.
We wont know what has made the changes, but, it’s been so much less stressful for all of us.

The main thing I hope that comes from this awesome weekend is that “Blake” realises that respite can be lots of fun and he has the power to make his own happiness.

Respite for Easter. What the…??

It seems we are going to have another visit from “Blake”, the Easter weekend.
Now before you all hop up and down and call me all sorts of names, we’re happy to provide respite for the little man. We’re happy to provide respite over Easter. But, I’m not happy that respite is required.

Does “Blake” have some challenging behaviours…yeah!
Does “Blake” push your buttons….yeah!
Does “Blake deserve to spend a special weekend with his ‘family’ …HELL YEAH!!!!

Ok, so, I might have plans to spoil him.
I might be a bit excited about having a little person in the house so I can do the Easter Bunny stuff.
I might be happy to have him here so soon so that we can see if the sleep progress we made works again and
I know my family will treat him just like all the other grand babies (maybe more spoiled to be honest), but..

I believe he should be home.
I believe he should be with his foster family.
I believe he should be made to feel included, and that regardless of behaviour he is part of the family.

I can’t imagine how he must feel about this.
I can’t imagine how his behaviour is going to be that weekend.
I can’t imagine what must be going through his little head.

This isn’t our first Easter with kiddies.
Last year we had “Kelly” for the 4 days over Easter.
We have had kids due for mothers day, but that’s a no from me, I don’t always cope well with mothers day, so, having kids around isn’t a good plan.
We’ve even had a kidlet scheduled for their birthday, and it was going to go ahead, until a BIO-family member got the all clear to visit from interstate so they stayed home.

So foster carers……

Negotiate with your respite people. For us it’s school holidays. We could have provided care during the following week instead. Maybe you could have a different weekend.

I know these little people come with some pretty big baggage, and they have their challenges. That’s why we do respite. To help you, to provide you with some ‘sanity’ time so that you can continue to be the best carer you can be, to help keep these placements working so that these precious little peple don’t get moved on to the next person because they just got too hard. I know you need and deserve respite (and a medal) but they deserve to be a part of your family, to feel loved and wanted.

So, if your respite weekend falls on a special event weekend, birthday, Easter, Christmas, Mothers Day, Fathers Day…please think about the impact on the little person if you still send them off to respite.
Ok, they might have fun, they might get spoiled, but they aren’t with you, their family.

Some assembly required

“Blake’s” Ba-ack.

Part of our plan to get the little man to sleep without howling is keep him busy and even busier.
We have more planned to help with the sleep see Snoopy saves the day

So, tonight, while waiting for the lasagne to cook we asked if he would mind giving MM a hand to assemble a play castle. ‘Mans’ work after all.
It’s not a big job, but it made him feel helpful and we’ve been putting it off,¬†s0 now it’s done. Yah!

We never would have imagined that he would be so taken with it. That’s our issue, it’s a pink and purple castle, and my neice called it her fairy castle when she owned it, so, we thought a little man would not have a bar of it. We were gladly wrong.

“Blake” helped assemble the castle, and then as the self appointed King proclaimed that it needed cleaning, so, we his minions were sent for cleaning products. We three got stuck into cleaning, well, MM and I cleaned and somehow King “Blake” just made it muddy.

The King has spent many hours in the castle this weekend. He has used it as a tank blowing up the enemy (poor Bella), as a race care track (the slide made a great track), as a production line (the slide doubles as a conveyor belt), as a fort where intruders were told to get off the property and at one point part of the roof was removed and placed in the middle of the lawn as a boat and with a length of gold ribbon he was able to fish.

It’s been so great to see “Blake” doing more creative play this weekend. Other weekends he has needed more direction, but thanks to one hand me down castle, the little man has had a great weekend being different characters.

To do list…old clothes for dress ups to enhance the play. Any suggestions for keeping the costs low?

Snoopy saves the day

We did it.
But how did we do it?

Well, that is the million dollar question. We don’t exactly know.

“Blake” has been back with us this weekend and we did it.
We got him to go straight to sleep both nights.
No “I want another drink”.
No “I need to go to the toilet”.
No coming downstairs.
No tears.
Most importantly….No howling.

So what did we do?
The answer is, we did a LOT of things differently.
We asked his PSW and social worker what to do. They actually didn’t help much other than to tell us that he does the ‘howling’ thing every night at respite, it’s not just for us (should that be a sigh of relief for us? or should we be frustrated that no one has tried to get to the bottom of this? I’ll do both!)
We asked our PSW what we could do.
We read books.
We racked our brains.
What we came up with was this:

From our PSW and the team at our agency – yes, a team approach. She asked around and they came up with – the little man is confused and not able to express himself, so when he’s unwinding in bed he’s thinking about loving being here and having fun with us, but misses his mum at the same time and can’t process that mixture of emotions.

Also, the fact that he comes from both a big bio-family and foster-family, then suddenly here he is an only child with 2 adults paying him attention could also be overwhelming him a little bit.

So, night 1, after dinner we had a chat about what changes were going to take place this weekend and why.

We explained that we were going to get him to have a bath at night instead of a shower in the morning, that he could have 2 short stories, or 2 chapters of a book, and what the ‘reward’ would be the next day for going straight to sleep.

Night 1, argh, who would have thought it would take him 20 minutes to get into the bath? We certainly didn’t. (that’s a story for another time) But, bathe he did, sort of. Out he got, and ready for bed, 2 chapters of his book and with a reminder about all the fun for tomorrow at the farm if he went straight to bed, we crossed EVERYTHING, and waited.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. 5 minutes, nothing. 10 minutes, nothing. 20 minutes, are we all clear?
It seems we were.
We checked on him just as we were going to bed, and wrapped tightly in his little arms was Snoopy. My poor old teddy, who is closer to 40 than either of us would like to admit to.

Night 2, and this time we’re sure we’re in for a long night as a couple of hours before bedtime “Blake” had a bit of a meltdown. We figured with our good fortune the previous night and the meltdown, we were in for trouble for sure. But we stuck with what worked last night.
Bath (straight in tonight, yah!) 2 chapters of a book and then bed.
As we were leaving his room a little voice followed us with “I miss my mum”
My turn to handle this one.
I went and sat on the other bed in his room and we had a quiet chat about how it must be confusing, having so much fun, and missing mum. “Blake’s” reply? “Yeah. Can mum come to respite too so we can have fun together?”
Instead, we agreed he should go to sleep and dream of all the fun things we did during the day so he can tell mum all about them the next day and Ta Dah!
Straight to sleep….again!!!

So what was the magic?
Well, it might have been the bath.
It might have been spending almost an hour unwinding and getting ready for bed.
It might have been us empathising and verbalising his conflicting feelings.
But, my money is on Snoopy.
Both nights Snoopy was in a bear hug, so Snoopy, this one’s for you buddy.

Thank you for all my good nights of sleep as a little one, and now thank you for helping our little one get some sleep.

More testing….really?

I really thought we were onto something.
Bribery, or as I like to call it… an incentive scheme.
It worked the previous night so why shouldn’t it work again?
Well, that was the theory.
Isn’t it a shame that children aren’t like in a text book?
Have a theory, put it into practice, wave your magic wand and hey presto, problem solved.

In this case, we told “Blake” about the incentive for going to sleep straight away, well before bedtime. Lunch at his favourite takeaway place and time to play in the playground. He was excited, so I foolishly thought we were in for an easy night.

Ba-dummm. Wrong answer.

An hour. Yes, an hour of howling. If it wasn’t so annoying it would be hilariously funny. He howls for a few minutes, stops, listens for our reaction, then starts again.
We checked to make sure he wasn’t in distress, that the little fella was actually ok, and he seemed to be. No actual tears, no runny nose, no red puffy eyes, no blotchy face and when asked, he couldn’t tell us what was wrong.

In 18 months of caring, we have only had 2 other criers, and both had reasons we could understand and help them with. This one is a mystery.

We even tried chatting to him the next day when things were back to normal again.
Maybe we were missing a step in his normal bedtime routine.
Had a last drink and loo trip … check
Bed time story … check
Night light on … check

It is indeed a mystery.

Anyone with any thoughts would be most welcome. Many heads make for less howling right?

Just horsing around

What an adventure.
“Blake” was really looking forward to horse riding at the farm, after all, he’d done it before….apparently.
Pa had the horses in the house paddock when we went to visit which was just too tempting for “Blake”. As soon as he was out of the car he wanted to race over and pat them. We managed to get him to race inside, say his hello’s and then he raced back out. Guess we weren’t going to get a cup of coffee anytime soon.

It turns out our little “expert” rider has only been on a pony before and as keen as the little man was to get up on a real horse, the experience wasn’t what he was expecting.
It’s a long way up.
Poor little man, so keen and excited, only to get up on the horse and then beg to taken straight back down. It was hard not to laugh.

My niece (Miss 6) was there, and she just loves riding, so she was next up. Laughing and waving as she was lead around the paddock. She went so far as to ask for no seat and no pedals (saddle and stirrups).
Well “Blake” wasn’t going to be out done by a little girl, so to his credit he asked for another go.
Up he went again, and this time, he did a few laps around the paddock. Pa leading the horse and one adult on each side of him as ‘catchers’ in case he fell.

You could tell he wasn’t 100% happy up there, but he stayed up for a while with lots of encouragement from us on the ground. We were really impressed that he got back up. That takes guts. Go “Blake” !!!

Then it was my turn for my second riding lesson. We like to lead by example, so MM was already on a horse and trotting around looking like he’d been doing it for years, and me, well I’m the entertaining one to watch. All can say is Henry….you are an amazing horse and I love you for putting up with my non-existent riding skills.

If watching me get on Henry wasn’t funny enough (We had to find something for me to stand on so I could reach to put my feet in the stirrups) then my dismount was something straight out of spaghetti western or cartoon. The advice from Pa was to quote Buzz Lightyear “fall with style”…not exactly the advice I was looking for.

Step 1 – remove feet from stirrups
Step 2 – lay on horse
Step 3 -swing right leg over horse and slowly turn body so I was laying sideways across the horse (imagine dead body across horse in a western and that was me)
Step fall, I mean 4 – Slide / slither down the side of Henry until my feet hit the ground
Step 5 – Give Henry a HUGE hug for not moving a muscle through this entire process.

If sore muscles are directly proportional to the fun we had….then we had LOTS of fun.

Testing testing

Testing behaviours. Gotta love those don’t you?
It’s always interesting, some kids arrive and they fit in and are awesome, and then you get the testers….always seeing just how far can they push and what they can get out of you.

Well, it’s tester day apparently.

“Blake” is back and despite jumping out of the car to come and give us a hug when he got here (lulled us into a false sense of security, we thought we were going to be in for an easy weekend) the testing behaviour has started as soon as it’s close to bed time.
Sitting on the couch, watching a movie, all good. At “intermission” it’s time to get PJ’s on and get ready for bed. We find this gets them to get ready for bed faster as they want to get back for the movie, and then there’s no reason to dilly dally after the movie. Most kids are happy with this, but, no, we instead got the silent, I’m-asleep-on-the-couch response. That’s ok, we had plans for tomorrow that he was looking forward to, so a simple reminder, non-compliance = no farm trip, was enough to get him off the couch and upstairs.

A few minutes later revealed one little man fully dressed sobbing “crocodile tears” into his pillow, missing his mum and still not getting ready for bed. I went through the “I understand you miss mum, you’ll see her in a couple of days, but now is time to get ready for bed.” No reaction from him, so I gave him a good night kiss and turned the light out and left the room with a parting “shame you didn’t get into your PJ’s, we could have watched the end of the movie.”
That got him moving.

With the time wasted in getting ready for bed, he didn’t get to see the movie all the way to the end (natural consequence) and we went through the same saga when he went to bed….more sobbing, strangely enough, no tears. The first time we went to check on him, we were met with silence when we asked what was wrong, so we just said good night and left. The second time we went to check he did tell us what was wrong. But miraculously he stopped crying once we reminded him if he didn’t get some sleep we couldn’t go horse riding at the farm the next day. I’ve never seen such a fast turn around.
Poor baby…pushing to see what we’ll do, and all that happened was he was going to miss out on fun.

I must say, I find it hard sometimes. Always check with MM, we weren’t too tough were we? It really was put on?

Thank goodness for MM. He keeps me sticking to the training we’ve done, otherwise I’d end up in there telling 37 bedtime stories, getting endless glasses of water and snacks.